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Book Review: Affective Materialities

29 April 2021

Isabelle Jenkinson, University of Leeds

Affective Materialities opens with an invitation for its contributors. Kara Watts and Molly Volanth Hall describe how the body in modernist literature has been claimed differently within recent critical theory by ecocriticism and affect theory. Their invitation is to consider the modernist body as it appears at the intersection of these two schools of thought. In other words, the collection asks how we might consider the body in its material relation to ecologies and as a subject experiencing affect.  Continue reading “Book Review: Affective Materialities”

Book Review: Modern Sentimentalism

1st September 2020

Jun Qiang, University of York

Lisa Mendelman, Modern Sentimentalism: Affect, Irony, and Female Authorship in Interwar America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) 

Sentimentalism has always been considered the antithesis of modern womanhood. Observing that American female novelists reconfigured sentimentalism in the modernist period, Lisa Mendelman offers a new understanding of this literary mode by defining it as ‘an evolving mode that transforms along with its cultural moment’ (p. 9). Mendelman, departing from a long tradition of sentimental fiction criticism in which cultural dynamics are obsessed over and artistic qualities are ignored, examines the aesthetic transformations and irony of the sentimental mode. Her book synthesises the sentimentalist subfield of modernist studies with affect studies, an emerging and thriving field. Its hybrid approach of integrating historical and theoretical inquiry, as well as reexamining the relationship between emotion and aesthetics, will be valuable to future scholars in affect studies.

Continue reading “Book Review: Modern Sentimentalism”

Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’

4 August 2020

Nimaya Lemal, Keble College, Oxford, and Middlebury College

Despite its provocative title, Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1964) does not renounce artistic interpretation wholesale. The interpretation at fault, for Sontag, is that which ‘digs “behind”the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one’, excavating elements for application within an analytical theory.[1]This ‘curious project for transforming a text’, she writes, essentially ‘translate[s]’ the work, a process which undercuts the integrity of the work itself.[2]Sontag’s essay rejects ‘that a work of art is its content’, yet she does not necessarily prescribe formalism, despite what some readers have suggested.[3]Her critique lies specifically with interpretative approaches that bypass form because they are content-focused, and hence engage in translational (usurping) analysis.[4]Sontag does advocate for alternative critical action, however. Throughout the essay, Sontag speaks to a kind of interpretation that is, at its core, ‘sensual’, ‘erotic’, and/or ‘loving’ in appreciation of a work’s form and beyond.[5]She closes her essay with the line: ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.’[6] Continue reading “Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’”

Late Stylist: Gertrude Stein’s Affective Time

Hyunjung Kim, Texas A&M University

3rd July 2020

‘Art’s autonomy shows signs of blindness,’ writes Theodor W. Adorno.[1] In Invalid Modernism(2019), Michael Davidson observes that Adorno metaphorically links ‘blindness to willed unknowing’ to begin his theory of aesthetics ‘to represent art’s refusal of the mimetic, the familiar, the true.’[2] To rewrite these statements, perhaps a little more poetically, we might understand an Adornian sense of willful blindness as an effort in search of different modes of seeing, connecting, and living by pursuing an active negation of the existing relations we have with otherness. Evoking Gertrude Stein’s perhaps most quoted line, ‘Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,’ this willful blindness reads as a gesture to attune to rose differently, to acknowledge that we see rose differently, to sense blue in what has been so long associated with red, or to imagine a shape that does not necessarily take the form of rose at all. Or we might also say, with the first line of Tender Buttons(1914), ‘A Carafe, that is a Blind Glass’, Stein obscures the original shape and purpose of a glass, making it ‘blind’ and thus opaque, impermeable, and impermissible. Continue reading “Late Stylist: Gertrude Stein’s Affective Time”

‘Ceux sont à vous, peut-être?’: Losing Clothes in Elizabeth Bowen

Farah Nada, University of Exeter

In Elizabeth Bowen’s short story ‘Sunday Evening’ (1923) the following exchange takes place:

[…] ‘They didn’t wear fig leaves till after the Fall.’
‘That must have been nice […] – I mean the no fig-leaves. But inexpressive—’
‘—Yes, inexpressive. I was going to say, rather impersonal.’
‘Oh, come, Gilda, if one’s own skin isn’t personal, what is!’
[…] ‘I don’t think it’s very personal. After all, it’s only the husk of one – unavoidably there. But one’s clothes are part of what one has got to say. Eve was much more herself when she […] had got the fig-leaves on […].’
‘Then do you think covering oneself up is being real?’ […].
‘I don’t know,’ said Gilda Roche. ‘The less of me that’s visible, the more I’m there.’[1]

Continue reading “‘Ceux sont à vous, peut-être?’: Losing Clothes in Elizabeth Bowen”

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